High response rates are seen in patients undergoing dose-intensive chemotherapy and autologous marrow transplantation due to the ability of the therapy to overcome inherent or acquired drug resistance. However, relapse rates are also high because this drug resistance reversal is incomplete. Because both P-glycoprotein- and platinum-induced resistance appear to be clinically important and can be reversed in vitro with a short exposure of cyclosporin A (CSA) at 2000 and 5000 ng/ml, respectively, we undertook a trial of high-dose chemotherapy with carboplatin (1500mg/m2), mitoxantrone (75 mg/m2), and cyclophosphamide (120 mg/kg) over a 5-day period combined with escalating doses of CSA. Thirty-seven patients with primarily breast cancer (61% doxorubicin resistant) and ovarian cancer (85% platinum resistant) were treated with CSA given as a bolus 18 h prior to chemotherapy, followed by a 5-day infusion at doses of 5.0-28.2 mg/kg/day and the chemotherapy. The maximum tolerated dose of CSA was a bolus of 5.5 mg/kg and an infusion of 15. 9 mg/kg/day, which gave a mean serum CSA level of 1544 ng/ml. The dose-limiting toxicity was severe mucositis and enteritis, leading to infectious complications. Nephrotoxicity was seen in 42% and, while usually mild and reversible, was fatal in two patients with pretreatment creatinine clearances h80 ml/min. Grade III-IV isolated hyperbilirubinemia was seen in 39%, but appeared to be of no clinical significance. The overall response rate for the 26 patients with measurable/evaluable disease was 73% and 63% for those with doxorubicin- or platinum-resistant disease. The median overall survival and progression-free survival for the group were 18.1 and 8. 0 months. The overall survival for the nine patients with doxorubicin-resistant breast cancer was 19.3 months. Although we did not achieve CSA levels needed to reverse platinum resistance in vivo, levels approaching those needed to reverse P-glycoprotein resistance were reached at the maximum tolerated dose. The strategy of combining dose intensity with drug resistance reversal deserves further study, especially with the advent of potentially less toxic agents available to reverse P-glycoprotein-mediated resistance.